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Pau Gasol has had the worst season of his career on every level. Now, the Lakers will be without their big man for at least six weeks. A detailed, and revealing, chronicle of his season.
Pau Gasol has been with the Los Angeles Lakers since the 2007-2008 season. His tenure with the Lakers has been a successful one; the Lakers hitting three straight NBA Finals while capturing two titles upon his arrival. He's been through just about everything as a Laker; from disappointing playoff exits featuring Phil Jackson slapping his chest, to Kobe Bryant barreling through him in the Olympics a few years ago to send a message. Yet, in his career, he has never faced a beast quite like this season. A nightmare he unfortunately won't be waking up from any time soon.
On the court this has, by far, been the worst season of Pau Gasol's career. The numbers are staggering when combing through them: his lowest points per game (13.4), lowest field goal percentage (45.3%), lowest true shooting percentage (50.7%), lowest field goal attempts (11.4), lowest rebounds per game (8), 2nd lowest total rebound percentage (13.2), lowest usage rate (20.1), and lowest free throw percentage (70.6%). Across the board his numbers are down in nearly every facet, all adding up to the lowest PER of his career at 15.9. The last time, and only other time, Pau Gasol was under a 20 PER was his rookie season, and even then he was at 19.5.
The numbers tell the tale all on their own, but that's only the half of it for Pau. He's been dealing with injuries since preseason. He's butted heads with Mike D'Antoni almost since the moment D'Antoni became head coach. And now, Gasol will be out at least six weeks (or four, depending on what "source" is correct) with a torn plantar fascia.
Things have not gone his way.
Let's take a detailed look through Pau Gasol's 2012-2013 timeline with the Lakers. A chronicle that is on par with the numbers.
October 16, 2012 - Gasol looks "a little fatigued".
After wrapping up the Olympics and returning to the states it was time for Pau Gasol and the Lakers to begin a new "era" of Lakers basketball. With the acquisition of both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash, along with a reloaded bench, the purple and gold were prepped to make a run for the ages. However, just the fourth game into the preseason, Pau Gasol's struggle had begun. While it was just a preseason game against the Utah Jazz, Mike Brown gave Pau Gasol the night off citing that he looked "a little fatigued" and "tired". In the first three games of the preseason Gasol logged 18 minutes, 30 minutes, and 27 minutes respectively.
No big deal though, right?
What we later learned is that during preseason and training camp Pau Gasol's tendinitis in both of his knees began to flare up.
"It was just something that started flaring up in the preseason," Gasol told reporters after practice Monday. "I didn't want to stop, and I don't want to stop now. I just don't have that luxury."
The pounding Gasol's legs took during former coach Mike Brown's lengthy practices may have contributed to the pain's persistence, according to a source with knowledge of Gasol's thinking. - Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA
November 9, 2012 - Lakers fire Mike Brown.
This is where the downward spiral truly begins for Gasol; coinciding with the firing of Mike Brown. The Lakers started the season 1-4, their lone victory coming against the Detroit Pistons. The "fatigued" Pau Gasol played more than 38 minutes in three of the five regular season contests under Mike Brown, and has since played 38 minutes or more six times total on the season. Under Brown, Pau Gasol averaged 13.6 points per game (on 41.4% shooting) and 9.6 rebounds this season.
November 12, 2012 - With each Mike fired, another one's hired. No, not Dunleavy, but D'Antoni.
Despite heavy rumors and information leading to the Lakers bringing back Phil Jackson to instill the Triangle and get the good ole' boys back together, the Lakers wound up hiring Mike D'Antoni. At the time this was met with heavy resistance and to this day remains a point of contention (if not more so now than when the hiring actually happened). The immediate concern was how a coach noted for running small ball, uptempo, styles would be able to utilize two big men who crave and need post touches.
"I think everybody had expectations about it, and they were all pretty high," Gasol said of Jackson's potential return. "We all understood what Phil brings to the table ... and what he means to the city and the franchise. It just couldn't work out for whatever reason." Greg Beachem, AP Sports
November 23, 2012 - Pau Gasol benched in 4th quarter. The first of many.
The first cracks of the fissure between Mike D'Antoni opened up in Memphis. Pau Gasol was subbed out late in the 3rd quarter and never saw the court again as Antawn Jamison finished out the game in place of Pau at the power forward. D'Antoni wasn't even officially hired on as coach more than two weeks at this point, and had only coached two games for the Lakers prior to the away game in Memphis. Both parties had plenty to say in regards to the benching.
When asked what he was thinking afterward regarding Gasol, D’Antoni was fairly straightforward with his response.
"I was thinking I’d like to win this game, that’s what I was thinking," he said. - Brett Pollakoff, ProBasketballTalk
Asked about his fourth-quarter benching Friday, Gasol politely said, "I don't remember the last time that has happened in my career. It's not my call. I'm a professional. When my number's called, I'm out there.
"There must be a thought process into it. It's a coaching decision, and I respect it. Antawn was playing well, and then [D'Antoni] wanted to go with a smaller lineup and catch up."
"All my looks are jump shots," he said. "I would like to see something closer to the basket and not just rolling, especially when Dwight is there. But we'll see. We'll figure it out. We're just starting, pretty much." - Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA
November 24, 2012 - Both knees. Tendinitis. At the same damn time.
The Lakers dominated Dallas a day after the Pau benching in Memphis, and Pau made it known that he had been dealing with tendinitis in both of his knees for the first time. Gasol also made it clear his intention was to play through the tendinitis to the best of his abilites. After the Lakers drumming of Dallas, D'Antoni spoke about how he and Pau will need to find a way to make it work for both sides.
"Pau's a great guy. I wasn't trying to disrespect him," D'Antoni said before Saturday's game. "Pau's a great player and he always will be a great player, so we'll keep tinkering and working. - Mike Bresnahan, L.A. Times
December 4, 2012 thru December 16, 2012 - The tendinitis break.
Despite his attempt to play through tendinitis in both of his knees, Pau Gasol and the Lakers decided to shut down the Spaniard. Gasol missed eight games as he rehabbed his knees and the Lakers went 3-5 during that stretch. Gasol returned against the Charlotte Bobcats on December 18th in a Lakers victory. Also during that period of time, Mike D'Antoni addressed the chatter of making Pau Gasol a sixth man off the bench instead of resuming as a starter once he returned.
"I'm not going to mess with Pau," D'Antoni said. "He's too important to the team and he's earned it and he's too good of a player to even go there. That would be a last resort kind of desperate (move)." - Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA
December 20, 2012 - Breaking bread.
The fourth quarter benchings continued for Pau Gasol, as it occurred three times to Gasol since D'Antoni became coach. The two met for dinner in an attempt to bridge the gap in the fissure that was no longer just cracks, but a ravine.
"It was to make sure we're in the same boat," Gasol said in a quiet moment Thursday after the Lakers' practice. "We're trying to reach the same goal. Let's communicate. Hopefully, we can meet halfway on some points."
D'Antoni told Gasol he would no longer be benched in crucial situations, according to a person familiar with the conversation. - Mike Bresnahan, L.A. Times
D'Antoni was the initiator of the meeting, suggesting they get dinner, something he would do with players individually from time to time. Was he making sure he wasn't "losing" Gasol?
"I didn't think I was," D'Antoni told The Times. "But I wanted to make sure he knew what my vision was for him and the team and see if that's all good. Then we'll tweak it or not tweak it. - Mike Bresnahan, L.A. Times
December 27, 2012 - If it's not the knees, it's the foot.
Just a mere four games (Lakers going 3-1) after returning from his extended time out due to his knee tendinitis Pau Gasol is diagnosed with plantar fascitis in his right foot. Pau once again decided to play through it, just as he did with his knees.
"The pain has gone up a little bit," Gasol said, who added the pain remains the highest in the mornings. "We just wanted to make sure there aren’t any fractures."
Still, Gasol believes he can play through it.
"So far, we’ve been managing it and keeping it under control," Gasol said. "Right now, I’m playing tonight. It’s always day by day." - Mark Medina, L.A. Daily News
January 4, 2013 - Gasol's worst game as a Laker.
Two points, 1-6 shooting, and a big loss to the Clippers. Pau Gasol had his worst game in his entire Lakers career, the only time in his tenure with the Lakers in which he scored two points or less.
"Pau is just going to continue to be patient. He's obviously frustrated and he has every right to be. I'm frustrated for him," said Bryant. "That's something that we have to solve because we're not going to get to where we want to go with him not playing at maximum potential or using his maximum potential." - Eric Pincus, L.A. Times
January 6, 2013 thru January 16, 2013 - McGee'd while Earl Clark makes an impression.
The Denver Nuggets visited Staples Center and defeated the Lakers, and in the process JaVale McGee left Pau Gasol with a concussion that would force Pau out for five games (Lakers going 2-3 in said period). With Jordan Hill diagnosed out for the season, Dwight Howard missing time because of his shoulder, and Pau Gasol out with his concussion the door opened for Earl Clark to snag an opportunity to earn a role with the team. With playing time Earl made an immediate positive impression (here's a breakdown of "Why we love Earl Clark").
"Obviously, finding Earl gave us a lot of athleticism and spread the floor," D'Antoni said. "So, yeah, there's a lot of little things that went into it but I wouldn't make the headline of one thing that I know you'd love to." - Eric Pincus, L.A. Times
January 17, 2013 - Off the bench in his return.
Finally cleared from his concussion symptoms Pau Gasol was ready to make his return as the Lakers faced off against the Miami Heat. However, Gasol would come off the bench and said he understood it was because he had been out of action due to the concussion.
"I've been a starter my entire career. I think this is my first games as a Laker, coming from the bench," said Gasol. "It's not something that I would enjoy I think."
Gasol said he understood the circumstances, "coming back from the concussion" against the Heat after almost two weeks off. - Eric Pincus, L.A. Times
January 18, 2013 - The "best team on the floor".
A day after Gasol came off the bench and made it clear he had no intention of coming off the bench for the Lakers and chalked it up to just getting back to the lineup after his concussion, Mike D'Antoni responded that it's his job to get the best team on the floor, period. Gasol would start the Lakers next game, January 20th against the Toronto Raptors.
"My job is to try to get the best team on the floor all the time and make it work," maintained Coach Mike D'Antoni after practice Friday. "That doesn't mean I'm not including him. I just mean, that's my job." - Eric Pincus, L.A. Times
"Obviously, I think [Gasol] made it pretty clear he wanted to start," D’Antoni said with a chuckle. "We’ll start him and see how it goes. That’s fine. I’m good with that. He should start. Hopefully the production from the whole team is good. It never comes down to one guy. But I’m comfortable with it." - Mark Medina, L.A. Daily News
January 21, 2013 - The bench.
Things came to a head in regards to Pau's position with the team. After going back and forth from the bench to starting, from being in while closing games to watching from the bench, Pau Gasol was no longer a starter under Mike D'Antoni. Earl Clark would now start at the power forward next to Dwight Howard. In a decision that felt inevitable, the Lakers would now bring their two-time NBA champion Pau Gasol off the bench in order to inject youth, athleticism, and a surprising ability to stretch the floor. Non-surprisingly, Gasol was staunchly opposed to coming off the bench.
"I'm not excited about it," Gasol said after the Lakers' 95-83 loss to the Bulls. "It's not something that I've ever been coming off the bench. But right now I'm more worried about us as a team and us struggling, so it would be selfish of me talking about how I feel of something in particular. - Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA
"He played better than when he played in the starting lineup," Kobe Bryant said. "He was in the post and was more free and has more command in the paint. As long as it works. We may have to iron that out. I don't know." - Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA
January 29, 2013 - More 4th quarter blues.
"I’m a competitor and think I bring a lot to the table," Gasol said. "It’s something I don’t like and don’t appreciate." - Mark Medina, L.A. Daily News
In response, Mike D'Antoni clarified that the reason he kept Pau on the bench was in reaction to New Orleans playing small, and was quick to throw a barb back Pau's way.
"Well, you know, 'all for one' didn't last (very) long, did it?" D'Antoni said, sarcastically referencing the Three Musketeers' rallying cry. "Forty-eight-hour shelf life. That's not bad. We'll take what we can get." - Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA
February 1, 2013 thru February 5, 2013 - Dwight out, Pau Gasol starting once again "like the good ole' days"
With the Lakers looking to make a push for the playoffs it was time for the seven game Grammys road trip. First up would be the Phoenix Suns, and an eventual disappointing loss. Making matters worse? Dwight Howard re-aggravated his shoulder for the umpteenth time, has since received PRP treatment, and is still day-to-day. However, for Pau Gasol, this was an opportunity to go back into the starting lineup and prove he deserves touches in the post.
So, Gasol found himself the starting center with no Howard in sight for three games, all on the road. The Lakers won each game (Minnesota, Detroit, and Brooklyn). In that stretch, Pau Gasol averaged 20 points per game (48.9% fg), 16.3 field goal attempts per game (8 field goals made), and 8.6 rebounds per game.
"It was a good feeling," Gasol said after his cameo as a starter Friday night for the Lakers because of Dwight Howard’s injury absence. "Like the good ol’ days."
Gasol smiled after he said it, but it’s clear that he hasn’t let go of his desire to be, as he said before his demotion, "a star starter." - Kevin Ding, OC Register
February 4, 2013 - Pau acknowledges asking for a fresh start is a possibility next season.
A cup of coffee with T.J. Simers turned into an extremely revealing interview for Pau Gasol. With Simers, Gasol revealed essentially every thought he had in regards to the Lakers and Mike D'Antoni. That dinner discussion he had with D'Antoni earlier in the season? It changed nothing, and things actually regressed. Gasol reiterated his desire to start alongside Dwight Howard to form a twin tower lineup that could dominate, and even acknowledged he made a concerted effort to feed Dwight easy buckets as he hadn't been "very effective" from the post. Most importantly, he stated that without a change in philosophy, and with Mike D'Antoni and Dwight Howard still representing the Lakers, he could see himself asking for a fresh start elsewhere next season.
"If this coach stays and Dwight Howard remains with the Lakers," I asked, "what about you?"
"It would be hard for me to deal with another season knowing the facts you just mentioned," said Gasol, 32 and with one year remaining on his contract.
"So do you ask for a fresh start elsewhere?"
"It's a possibility," he said, "yes." - T.J. Simers, L.A. Times
February 5, 2013 - Pop goes the season?
With Pau playing strong as a starter for the Lakers things were looking up for the Lakers. They were in Brooklyn and en route go go 3-1 to start the road trip. Then, late in the fourth quarter, Pau Gasol went down after attempting to block Brook Lopez. Gasol attempted to get up and play on, but checked out at the next dead ball and called it a night. Later, he would reveal that he heard a "pop" when he tweaked his foot, and the Lakers would say little more than the fact that he would receive an MRI the following day.
“I’m very very concerned about it,” Kobe Bryant said. Obviously we don’t know the extent of the severity of the injury yet. But I’m very very concerned to say the least.” - Mark Medina, L.A. Daily News
February 6, 2013 - Torn Plantar Fascia, out at least six weeks
This season has been an exhausting one for Pau Gasol and the Lakers, filled with bad news, bad chemistry, and bad basketball. On the eve of the Lakers taking on Boston, in Boston, Gasol underwent an MRI on his foot. The results? Partially torn plantar fascia on his right foot-- the same foot that he was playing through the plantar fascitis on. Gasol will receive a second diagnosis in Los Angeles with team doctors, but the initial outlook appears to be at least six weeks without Gasol.
Right, wrong, or otherwise this has been the most trying season in Pau Gasol's career. The numbers reflect it, the injuries reflect it, and the issues he has had in philosophy with Mike D'Antoni reflect it. With Gasol out at least another six weeks the road to the playoffs and beyond just got even murkier for Los Angeles, who are still three games out from the 8th seed of the playoffs (Houston Rockets).
Nothing has come easy for the Lakers, and when the roster was constructed the vision in mind hasn't translated to the reality we've watched unfold. For Pau, we will soon know how much road there is left for him to travel for the 2012-2013 Lakers.
For the Lakers, it has gone from bad to worse.
- Follow this author on Twitter @DrewGarrisonSBN